Fanatics is taking over the NHL’s uniforms. I have thoughts.

* long, exasperated sigh *

The National Hockey League and Fanatics announced that they had reached an agreement for the latter to be the former’s on-ice uniform supplier, starting in the 2024-25 season. The deal lasts ten years, until the 2033-34 season. Considering it was announced at 6:45 AM Eastern on a Tuesday, you can guess how it was received.

Fanatics has been making locker room athletic wear (undershirts, hoodies, hats, etc), designing championship and commemorative t-shirts, and running for the NHL since 2017, as well as producing “low-end” jersey replicas with their Breakaway line. They also play a similar role for the MLB, NBA, and NFL, as well as many NCAA teams.

Those of you who are just now hearing of Fanatics are probably thinking to yourself, “Burkus, these guys sound a lot more like a retail company than a uniform manufacturer. What gives?” The thing is, dear reader, that that is exactly what Fanatics is. This deal is like if the NBA jersey contract went from Nike to Sketchers. Except imagine if Sketchers had questionable-at-best quality control and frequently messed up basic elements of being a retail company.

One scroll through the quote tweets and comments of the announcement post will bring up horror stories people have had with the company, either receiving misspelled or misaligned products or getting the wrong jersey altogether. In addition, their choice of materials is suspect, uncomfortable and stretching or shrinking in the wash, and the printed logos on their shirts are notorious for being quick to wear off after a few loads.

But for me, my biggest concern comes from Fanatics’ design mentality. In the six years since they took over the NHL’s merchandising, I have never once seen a shirt from them that wasn’t a templated mess. I just don’t trust their ability to do anything, ya know, original. Add into that, and it’s a bleak future for NHL design.

The worst part is that the NHL doing this was incredibly predictable. They seem to almost always make the worst possible decisions for their brand. All the lockouts. Mandating St. Patrick’s day jerseys over Hockey is for Everyone. Making it impossible to get a decent broadcast of their games without cable. Deciding to leave ESPN for the Outdoor Life Network singlehandedly did this League decades of damage, in terms of the public actually caring about it. This and the OLN debacle have a very similar vibe. Going from Adidas, a widely-renown, global company, to Fanatics, a widely-hated company founded in 2011 that’s never manufactured uniforms before. It’s a common refrain on hockey twitter, and elsewhere, that hockey is “the best sport with the worst league.” This essentially confirms that. I have a feeling this will come to be seen as the hockey version of the ACC’s grant of rights (for those who don’t follow college football realignment, that’s not a good comparison).

I dearly hope that I’m proven wrong. That Fanatics comes to the table with some fresh ideas, offering quality jerseys at a low (or at least lower) price. That the Blue Jackets jerseys get a redesign so that we have actual striping. But I’m not holding my breath.

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